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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

The Toxic Avenger--er, rather the EPA to the rescue in Tonawanda!

Thursday, January 28:

The Environmental Protection Agency released a statement today the first sentence of which conveyed a succinct message to the operators of Tonawanda Coke: “You must follow environmental law.” The EPA says that the company is guilty of “polluting the air with uncontrolled releases of ammonia and benzene, failing to conduct required annual maintenance inspections of emission controls and proper maintenance and operations, and failing to complete multiple required reports.” The feds add that the company has mishandled coal tar sludge—Tonawanda Coke’s environmental manager was arrested on related federal charges on December 23—and illegally discharged wastewater into the Niagara River. (Back in October, J.D. Crane, the company’s owner, wrote a column for the Buffalo News in which he claimed, “We have cooperated and continue to cooperate with the regulatory agencies in charge of overseeing our facility. TCC has been and continues to be in full compliance with its lawfully issued DEC air permit.”)

“The community is excited to see decisive leadership from our partners at the US EPA and NYS DEC,” said Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

Friday, January 29:

We learned late Friday night that Gabrielle Bouliane, the well-known and much-loved local poet whose work has appeared numerous times in this newspaper, had lost her fight with cancer down in Austin, Texas. A passionate and compassionate soul who spread a lot of love from her hometown in Buffalo to her adopted homes in Seattle and Austin, Bouliane really hit her stride as a slam poet whose performances left audiences spellbound. She was always a champion of other artists, too, and a fervent promoter of the form. Plus, she had a discerning eye for a good cowboy boot. Her sad passing has left a hole in many people’s hearts. Circle this Valentine’s Day for the tribute/benefit being held in her honor at Nietzsche’s, 248 Allen Street, 2-8pm.

Saturday, January 30

Nothing happening today, and so thoughts turn to politics: North District Councilman Joe Golombek is reportedly preparing to announce a run against Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. That may be one reason that Golombek is happy to incur the displeasure of his usual ally, Mayor Byron Brown, by proposing Buffalo shift to a city manager form of government, and by supporting Curtis Haynes to fill the Ellicott District vacancy when the mayor would have preferred Darius Pridgen. Golombek will need to peel away some regular Hoyt voters in order to beat the incumbent in a primary, and that will be difficult to do if Hoyt can label Golombek as a puppet for Byron Brown.

Just a thought for a Saturday morning.

Sunday, January 31

On Sunday night, a man tried to run down police who pulled over his car at Rodney Avenue and Holden Street, then drove off. Police fired on the departing vehicle, then gave chase. Eventually the driver abandoned his car and ran, and finally shot himself. He was declared dead on the scene. This bizarre and tragic story was quickly upstaged, however…

Monday, February 1

Eric Ocasio, a 27-year-old sheet metal worker who was losing his wife and was afraid of losing his children, lost his life in a standoff with police this afternoon. Ocasio was holed up in a carriage house behind 57 Trinity Place in Allentown when police arrived to check on his welfare—friends feared he was suicidal—and to defuse a confrontation with his wife. Eventually Ocasio, distraught and apparently drunk, fired a round of birdshot from his shotgun, which caught Buffalo Police Detective John Garcia in the face. (Garcia was lucky that the pellets were tiny and that they missed his eyes. He’s recovering well, according to police.) Police responded with 20 or 30 rounds of their own, then negotiators spent the next two hours trying to talk Ocasio out of the second-floor apartment. (He insisted that he wanted to smoke a cigarette with his brother, who was outside the carriage house with police, before he surrendered.) At about three o’clock, Ocasio extended his shotgun out the window with one hand. The SWAT team, seeing the barrel come out first, opened fire—at least a dozen rounds, probably more. This reporter watched from a nearby backyard as the SWAT team entered the building a few minutes later, preceded by flash-bang grenades. They found Ocasio dead, with his shotgun, extra cartridges, and a bulletproof vest. “He was my friend,” a neighbor said that evening, as folks on the block tried to patch together what each had observed or learned about the incident, which shut down the neighborhood for most of the day. “He was the sweetest guy. He just wasn’t dealing well with this breakup.” Ocasio’s wife, Shirley Cintron, is left with two children—one four years old, one 23 months.

Tuesday, February 2

Today Buffalo’s Common Council approved, on recommendation of the Corporation Counsel and the Council’s Claims Committee, a $1.2 million settlement to be paid to Sadiq Ahmed of Lackawanna, representing the estate of Warith Habib Abdal. Abdal, formerly known as Vincent H. Jenkins, served 17 years in prison for a 1982 rape at Tifft Farms, before DNA evidence exonerated him. He was released August 31, 1999 with $40 in his pocket. Ahmed, a fellow Muslim, gave Abdal a place to live and remained a close friend until Abdal died of cancer on September 19, 2005, at the age of 66. At the time of his death, Abdal had already won $2 million in the settlement of a wrongful imprisonment suit against New York State. The settlement approved by the Common Council on Tuesday brings to a close Abdal’s suit against the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Police Department.

Wednesday, February 3

Carl Paladino for governor? Seriously—Rus Thompson, a leader of the local Tea Party movement, is calling for his fellow malcontents statewide to draft the cantankerous Buffalo developer as the Tea Party candidate for governor of New York State.

An unpopular, unelected incumbent. A prince of the Democratic party waiting in the wings. A lame Republican challenger, now possibly facing a right-flank attack from Carl Paladino. An ongoing budget crisis. The power of reapportionment at stake in the state legislature races. Veteran assemblymembers and senators vulnerable, here and across the state.

Best election year ever.

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